As of this fine Tuesday morning, the Baylor Bears are 14-0. The latest step in that undefeated record came Monday night in Waco versus Texas A&M, a 61-52 victory in Waco that featured solid play from Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller, the three-headed length monster that constitutes the overwhelming strength of this still unbeaten Baylor team. The Bears are also much better in the backcourt than last season, with the lightning-quick Pierre Jackson and the sharpshooter Brady Heslip and promising Cal transfer Gary Franklin.
There's so much talent in Waco, few teams in the nation can match up with these Bears on a basic personnel level. Scott Drew's team has an ingrained advantage every time it takes the floor.
But when you tune into a Baylor game — provided it isn't against Northwestern, that is — don't expect to see a blowout. In fact, you have a much better chance of seeing a close, oftentimes ugly, performance.
Baylor's win over A&M was another in a series of close, hard-fought wins for this team, many of those wins coming without much in the way of offensive efficiency. Last night's 61 points in 67 possessions came thanks to poor shooting (effective field goal percentage: 41.2). Baylor's offense was salvaged by its athletic advantage, which left A&M hacking frequently and sending the Bears to the free throw line at a 47.1 percent clip. But the Bears were never fluid or particularly graceful on the offensive end, and this game was frequently in doubt down the stretch.
The same was true last week, when Baylor got a 54-52 win over Mississippi State despite scoring far less than a point per possession — .86 ppp, to be exact — and posting a sub-40 eFG% (39.1). But the Bears have won ugly in other ways, too, allowing BYU to score 1.14 ppp in Baylor's 86-83 win in Provo. Or check out the West Virginia game, in which both teams scored frequently and at will as the Bears pulled out an 83-81 neutral-court win in overtime.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Sure, if you see Baylor in warmups, you expect them to run every opponent off the floor. You may also expect them to be the kind of team — tons of new players, more talent than cohesion, that sort of thing — that looks great in blowouts and uncertain in close games, struggling through situational basketball or fading in the face of an every-possession-counts pressure-cooker. Instead, the Bears have thrived. The win in Provo was brilliant, given the hostile road environment. And this team's past two wins — Mississippi State and Texas A&M — should hardly be discarded because of the ugliness. The ugliness is a feature, not a bug. It showcases a hypertalented team that isn't afraid to mix it up a little bit, that can adapt to a slow, defensive game and still get the key stops when it needs them. It runs counter to the obvious, easy analysis of the Bears' talent, even if some of those players (cough, Jones) still seems a little too eager to defer.
The point is, I'd argue Baylor hasn't played well in the last three weeks. That they're still undefeated is a testament to experience, toughness and, of course, really good players. But those players can still get better. This team can still improve.
Baylor is already winning ugly. Some might see a discouraging trend; I see one of the most talented teams in the country already possessing a unique, indefinable skill. As this season progresses, the Bears will get better, and the need to win ugly will be minimized. But it's sure to come in handy down the line. Just you wait.